Ranunculus coming along

These can be awkward little blighters, but they are coming along nicely. Great root formation (well I think so). I guess it shows you that decent plants can be grown in peat free compost.

Next step is to get them into their silver planters and hopefully get them to flower 🤞🏻

First public session of the Lords Horticulture committee

Committee in session

Today was the first public session of the House of Lords committee looking into horticulture. Witnesses were:- Tessa Jones, Director of Agri-Food Chain, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Gill Laishley, Deputy Director of Farming & Primary Processing, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Tim Mordan, Deputy Director of Innovation, Productivity and Science, Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs.

So what were my takes from the session. Straight away for me it became apparent just how wide the term ‘horticulture’ is used for, and how for different people it means very different things. Much as the session was spent talking about farming. To me the amateur gardener thats agriculture isn’t it? But no… horticulture can include growing acres of strawberries under glass for example. So when looking at benefits to mental health as an example, whilst its was rightly pointed out that the benefits of horticulture are clear (and to an extent thats true), it really depends what you mean. Yes being in green spaces, looking and enjoying flowers is of course beneficial. Working in the driving rain, picking fruit, feeling cold and miserable maybe less so. So again… it comes back to what is horticulture.

Issues of funding were discussed. So did horticulture has a fair crack of the whip in access to public funds. Well maybe if we take what could be described as industrial horticulture. But if its smaller scale private horticulture (lets say National Plant Collections given they are close to my heart) I wouldn’t think DEFRA, or the Department of Health and Social Care would know (why should they) my plant collection existed… so there would be no way it could be included in terms of getting public money for public good.

I’m really pleased the committee is looking into so many important areas. I am sure its members will have so so much to consider. I certainly don’t envy writing up a report given it has to cover so much ground. I will definitely be submitting some evidence on areas I think are important and perhaps haven’t been considered yet.

Sowing seeds too early… Is it gardening FOMO?

Every year I write this advice. Every year I try to follow it… though I know many of you will be keen to do lots of seed sowing. So here it is

It’s now February, which means I can finally say ”I will start sowing my cosmos seeds THIS MONTH”.

But.. and it is a big but, just because a seed packet says you can sow from February doesnt mean you must. In actual fact you may be setting yourself up for more work, and for not much more reward if you do. So.. when some of the packs say you can sow cosmos from Feb, that is true. But firstly remember that growing conditions differ frm where you live in the country. If you are on the Isle of Wight your timings will differ from if you are in Scotland.

Then – and this is what I always think about… for tender annuals like cosmos, what does sowing now mean. Well it means you will have to keep the plants from free possibly until mid May (depending on where you live). So do you have space for plants that will be pretty large in 3 months time to keep them under cover, or would it be easier sowing later?

Then of course people rightly ask others what are they doing. Well that depends on what set up they have. Are you comparing like with like. SO I will start successionally sowing in the last week of Feb (probably) but I have a polytunnel that I can keep them all in to ensure plenty of light and heated propagation beds to try to keep frost free. If I wasnt aiming for Hamptn Court it would make my life even easier to start sowing in March or even April wouldnt be too late.

So…. What am I saying? Well you can sow when you like… if it gives you pleasure well go for it. People will often say, what have you to lose. Not much in terms of money.. but actually time in terms of trying to keep early sowed plants alive; stopping them getting leggy etc etc… And sometimes a later sowing can save you a lot of time, and the flowers will be just as good.

So.. wait… wait…. Not yet…. Not just yet… 😂

A real horticultural hero

I know we all probably have a horticultural hero. Often family members are gardeners from the past.But then you hear a story that makes you think there are hero’s among us.

Those of you who have read my missives over the years will know my gardening ethos as being very pragmatic. By that I mean I dont get upset if things dont work. When trees fell on my greenhouse etc I just think… ok.. how do we solve it. When plants die (they do) I dont have tears I just think ok.. thats part of gardening.

But of course pragmatism has a limit.

Do you remember the lady (Melanie Lewis) who had one of the National Collections of aeoniums who appeared on Gardeners World and could pretty much name each one by sight. Forget her collection… she is clearly a national treasure herself.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0c48spl

Well imagine a power cut knocks out the heating to some of your greenhouses and you lose around 700 plants including some extremely rare cultivars. 😱 And then work out the cost of replacing and getting heaters to prevent any further issue like this will cost maybe £5-6,000. I think that’s where my pragmatism would have reached breaking point.

The fact that while downhearted (who wouldnt be) she isn’t defeated,a nd she is determined to rebuild shows me just the kind of spirit true gardeners have, and that makes her a bit of a hero. I think I will do a podcast with her, about her collection, about what happened, but also about future plans. I know she is crowdfunding to help with the cost of replacement.. so all power to her!

For those who may want to support there is a crowdfunding page which you can find here:- https://www.gofundme.com/f/aeonium-national-collection-holder-support

Soil.. should horticulture have a say?

There is currently an inquiry by the Environment Food & Rural Affairs select committee looking into soil. This is a good thing. As the great American broadcaster Paul Harvey once said, “Man — despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication, and his many accomplishments — owes his existence to a six inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains”.

Now all the details as to how to respond can be found here. https://committees.parliament.uk/call-for-evidence/2996/ Whilst very much focussed on agriculture, I do think horticulture can and should have a view.

Willow mulch

So as you can see in terms of horticulture there perhaps is much that can be learned from how soil is treated. To mulching, not constantly digging and so on (no idea why I said the cosmos were going in at night when I meant next year).

Plough field with a conservation strip

So next door we have a ploughed field, which is fine. They grow crops and of course food security is important. Next to it is a conservation strip. Essentially that means its just left and not ploughed up. It looks slightly longer in summer than it does now, but not hugely different. As I understand it, that qualifies for some form of subsidy. Essentially public money for public good.

Mulched, not ploughed, pollinator friendly mass planting

Next door is my plot. Two national plant collections, preserving the UKs biodiversity one plant at a time (or at least having a go at it). They just happen to be plants that are pollinator friendly. They don’t get sprayed with pesticides; they are grown with collected rainwater and so on, all in an effort to be as sustainable as possible. If we delve even deeper we could look at research that shows cows fed with cosmos flowers in their feed can reduce the methane output (greenhouse gas) by around 26%, so some of this stuff really could be quite important.

But in terms of the soil, and doing the right thing with it, and to it, no subsidy, so no public money for public good. I would suggest the way I look after my soil is better than intensive farming, and what I am doing can be equally as important in terms of food security – as without those bees who just love all those cosmos and indeed hollyhocks the crops may not be in as good a state as they might be.

But purely in terms of soil, are there lessons from no dig, no spraying of insecticides, thinking about fertilise use etc that can be learned from gardens. I think maybe so.

Different name, same plant?

Putting aside the pics are in different light conditions I do sometime question whether seeds sold under different plant names are one and the same. Here is yet another one I have to work out.

First one is Sonata Pink Blush… apparently “the earliest flowering variety in our trials” according to one company.. which grows to 60cm… the second is Candyfloss Pink Sunrise…. apparently “one of the earliest to flower in our trials” from another…. Also grows to 60 cm…. Hmmmm 🤔

The fast and loose changing of seed names for marketing purposes really is a tricky one to keep on top of, if there is zero reference as to what the previous name was. Now these could be two different plants.. but I remain unconvinced.